This is a question I’ve been rolling about my mind for some time now. Is the novel I’m working on (The Island and the Sea) really Steampunk or simply a Victorian era action adventure with some light steampunk elements?
First let us ask why does it matter? Well, it does and it doesn’t. Personally I don’t care about genre, but it give a book identity and lends it to an audience.
But a genre, be it Speculative Science Fiction, High Fantasy, or Steampunk, doesn’t lead to a good story. Within the genre’s listed above there are many great and terrible works, and it wasn’t the genre that made it great or terrible, it was the storyteller.
My goal in writing The Island and the Sea is not to write a good Steampunk novel, it is simply to write a great novel. So why call this book steampunk in the first place?
Let me put it this way, this book is influenced heavily by many of the great steampunk influences from the past, Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson in particular. There are other elements of the genre in the book as well.
Yet all the while I have this nagging feeling that a steampunk purist will scoff at calling this novel one of his or her beloved genre. Where are the air ships? Where are the plethora of contraption. The trope, where is the trope?
To compromise, I shall call the book Steampunk-Lite in that shares a common ancestry, but takes it in a slightly different direction. I focus on character more than devices, on tension and scale more than air ships, and on crafting rather than fitting snugly into a steampunk box. And I think the book is better for it.
All this being said, let me share with you an excerpt for my novel which I hope will delight both steampunk aficionados as well as our everyday adventures out there. I hope you are prepared for the Field Coronary Extractor and Replacement Apparatus, a clear nod to steampunk.
Excerpt: The Field Coronary Extractor and Replacement Apparatus
“Fitzgerald,” said Greatworth. “Franklin P Fitzgerald. It’s good to see you. Classes treating you well I trust?”
“Quite,” I said as I looked around at the trinkets which lined book shelves. “What’s all this then?” I inquired motioning to the collection.
“Ah,” he grinned. “Just a small hobby of mine. Don’t be shy now, you can take a look.”
I approached the shelves and looked that the gleaming artifacts. These objects were unlike anything I had seen before, their construction most unusual and each entirely different from the one sitting next to it. Some were sleek steel spokes, small chimney stacks and boiler pots, while others were all cogs, gears, clockwork and springs.
“All of these items,” Greatworth said proudly, “have been brought here from round the world, all are one of a kind. Prototypes, you see. But what they all have in common is something truly special. They are all failed inventions, never made it to market. In other words they are true symbols of progress. You see, for every invention that you or I use, from the life altering to the mundane, there are many times more which end up abandoned for one reason or another along the way, unused. Not because they are broken or useless, and certainly not because they aren’t genius as most clearly are. Here, let me show you my favorite.”
With some effort he rose from his chair and, with the aid of a black cane with a brass rabbits head for a handle, walked with a heavy limp toward a bookshelf where he grabbed a rather viscous looking artifact. It looked very much like a mechanical spider with a handle on its back as well as a jutting crank and two leavers. Four long metal legs spread out from the base of the handle, or what looked like the body of a spider, with small hooks at the end of each “foot”. As Greatworth gripped it by the handle, heaved it up and displayed its underworkings, I witnessed something most unsavory. In the middle of the “body” was a protrusion lined with a ring of sharpened metal teeth, and as Greatworth began to wind the crank, the teeth began to spin like the mouth of an evil mechanical squid to the chilling sounds of metal upon metal, gears upon gears, a ravishing orchestra of grinding machinery ready to eviscerate it’s victim.
“Marvelous!” he said over the noise in awe of his own device. “Breathtaking wouldn’t you say?”
“Mm,” I replied still caught up in the sinister nature for which I could only imagine this device was designed for. “What is it?”
“This particular device is called the Field Coronary Extractor and Replacement Apparatus, designed for the military you see. It would have had a much catchier name had it made it to market I assure you. It is grand in scope and in promise, but when using this device in action it sadly misses the point. It works thusly: Say you are a soldier and you are charging up the front line, bullets whizzing and whirring and whatnot, and then, oof, you get struck in the heart.” Greatworth clutched at his chest with a mock expression of pain, “Goodness gracious me, my heart!” he said rather unemphatically. “What am I to do? Die on the battle field, become another casualty? I should say not! Bring in the Field Coronary Extractor and Replacement Apparatus to save the day. All we need is a fresh heart.”
“And that,” he continued, “Is where this device misses the point, because for it to work you need a live heart, don’t you see. In theory you would find a private, call him forward, place the device over the pour buggers chest, clamp shut the arms to keep him from squirming,” and with that he pulled a leaver and the leg snapped to a close like a medieval vice, “give him a drop of either so he doesn’t make any noise, and then twist the crank.” As he began to twist it, the teeth began to screech as they slowly lowered toward the chest of the imaginary private.
“The teeth will begin to spin,” he shouted, “and will burrow into the privates chest moving past the ribs like butter, three tongs will gently pluck the heart when I pull this second leaver here, and their sharpened edges effectively remove any excess messy bits like veins and tissues and such so you can pluck out the heart without having to yank, which would be most unpleasant.” He stopped twisting and pulling at the device and announced, “There you have it, a fresh heart with which you can do with what you like. Open the legs, the private drops to the floor, place it over the dying soldier soldier who was shot in the heart, and then simply spin the crank in the opposite direction and it will burrow, remove the old heart and attach the new one. Rather brilliant, wouldn’t you say.”
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I hope you enjoyed this short expert from my novel in progress The Island and the Sea. If you did enjoy it, please share it with your friends!